Monday, March 17, 2008

What the Media Never Bothered to Answer About Rev. Wright

No question that Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, made outrageous remarks in his sermons. The clips that have been most played on YouTube and TV are harsh, inflamatory, and disturbing. There's no easy way to spin, "God Damn America." Obama did what he needed to do, in written and video communications he distanced himself and denounced the statements. (see below for excerpts and clips).

How is it that this story—based solely on excerpts from old, long-available videos of sermons—was covered breathlessly as breaking news? It was covered with the urgency of of a crane falling and demolishing a New York building or an investment bank suddenly sucked into a sinkhole of bad credit, or the revelation that a righteous governor went to high-priced whores.

We got a lot of "what?" But very little "Why?" and not a bit of "Why now?" Does anyone know the flashpoint of the Rev. Wright firestorm? Anyone tracking that down?

Missing from the coverage was any sense of the context of the Rev. Dr. Wright's remarks. Here are some of the things what I wish the press would have told me.
  1. Who is Rev. Wright (other than Obama's former pastor)? What's his bio?
  2. What has he accomplished in his community? With his congregation?
  3. What, taken as a whole, is his message to his congregation? to the African American community? to the Christian Church, to America?
  4. What do his colleagues think of him?
  5. What do members of his congregation think of him? What do they think his message is? Why are they drawn to him?
  6. What is the background of Rev. Wright's black liberation theology?
  7. What were the sermons with the nasty bits actually about? What was their message? What did they ask of the congregation?
Instead, the standard media play was: Here are some awful things that Obama's minister preached; will it sink his campaign or will it just get people to stop talking about Geraldine Ferraro?

The best main stream attempt to answer any of this came this morning in The Wall Street Journal in an article by Suzanne Satalin and Douglas Belkin. They quote Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University
"America is our country and we love her, yet she has done such awful things. We have to have a place where we say…'This is not okay. I'm still hurt about this.' "
The best perspective piece I've seen on Rev. Wright is not in the traditional media, but in this blog post by Kim Pearson on BlogHer.

Mickeleh's Take: If you want to take an even longer view: Rev. Jeremiah Wright's namesake, the prophet Jeremiah delivered even harsher messages against Israel and Jerusalem than anything Rev. Wright has said about the United States. In a ministry spanning the last days of the Kingdom of Judeah through the destruction of the Temple of Solomon, Original Jeremiah was even charged with treason, and indicted on a capital offense for his troubles. He railed against prophets who say all is well, all is well, when it's not well at all. (You probably know the more famous translation, "They cry 'peace, peace,' when there is no peace." Or the more recent version, "'The surge is working, the surge is working,' when the surge is not working.")

PostScript: Obama's statements.
"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies. I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."

He also sat for a friendly interiew with Keith Olbermann (MSNBC), and a prosecutorial one with Major Garrett (Fox News) and then addressed the issue again at a rally in Plainfield Indiana.

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